Beyond tree cover: Characterizing southern China's forests using deep learning

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Mapping forests with satellite images at local to global scale is done on a routine basis, but to go beyond the mapping of forest cover and towards characterizing forests according to their types, species and use, requires a dense time-series of images. This knowledge is important, because ecological and economic values differ between forests. A new generation of low cost very high spatial resolution satellite images and the advent of deep learning enables improved abilities for distinguishing objects based on their structure, which could potentially also be applied to map different forest classes related to type, species and use. Here we use GF-1 images at 2 m resolution and map six forest classes including different planted species for the karst region in southwest China, covering 806,900 km2. We compare the results with field data and show that accuracies range between 78% and 90%. We show a dominance of plantations (15%) and secondary forests (70%), and only remnants of natural forests (6%). The possibility to map forest classes based on their crown structure derived from low cost very high-resolution satellite imagery paves the road towards sustainable forest management and restoration activities, supporting the creation of connected habitats, increasing biodiversity and improved carbon storage. No temporal information is needed for our approach, which saves costs and leads to rapid results that can be updated at a high temporal frequency.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRemote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)17-32
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Zoological Society of London.

    Research areas

  • Deep learning, forest types, karst, monoculture plantations, remote sensing

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